The ABC began its coverage of the Australia Day weekend with a live broadcast of the Australian of the Year Awards, hosted by Kumi Taguchi and Jeremy Fernandez. The Golden Guitar Awards also got the live treatment on ABC Country as well as livestreams on the ABC New England North West, Landline, Australia all Over and ABC Music Facebook pages.
Three key events were broadcast on ABC TV and livestreamed on Facebook on 26 January: the WugulOra morning ceremony at Barangaroo, which acknowledges Australia’s shared history and the traditional custodians of the land, the Flag Raising and Citizenship Ceremony in Canberra, and the Australia Day Live concert from Circular Quay. During the day, ABC Radio Sydney also teamed up with Koori Radio for their first co-production to cover the Yabun Festival, one of Australia's largest Indigenous Festivals, which takes place in Sydney each year and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
For those who were unable to attend Easter services due to the impact of COVID-19, the ABC broadcast and streamed Good Friday and Easter services. A special collection of religion features was curated for iview for the Easter lockdown, and the ABC’s Religion & Ethics online portal also featured articles, discussions and opinion pieces across Easter week, covering multiple faiths and beliefs. For the ABC's response to lockdown on Anzac Day, see 'COVID-19'.
The ABC broadcast the 29th annual Helpmann Awards in July, hosted by Susie Youssef and Mitchell Butel. Celebrating Australia’s live entertainment and performing arts industry, the program featured a world-first televised performance from ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two’, live from Melbourne’s Princess Theatre.
Year of Indigenous languages
The ABC delivered a range of content for the International Year of Indigenous languages in 2019.
Indigenous language videos were produced as part of the New Year’s Eve television broadcast, and ABC Life published six articles written by young Indigenous language speakers, with illustrations by Indigenous artist Charlotte Ellingham. In partnership with First Languages Australia, the ABC Indigenous website featured the Gambay interactive first languages map.
ABC Kids listen launched the Little Yarns series. Each of the 27 episodes of Little Yarns invited listeners to learn a word on Country from one of the hundreds of First Nations languages. Voiced entirely by First Nations peoples and featuring music and artwork by Aboriginal composers and artists, each episode covered different themes including family, nature, culture and belonging.
"I showed all my Aunties and they loved it! Such a great concept and I can see how much it can benefit kids… and everyone!" - Batjamalh language speaker and Little Yarns guest, Maree Yoelu
Short-form series This Place explained the stories behind Indigenous place names, and throughout the year, Radio National Indigenous art and culture program Awaye provided programming around language revival in poetry and contemporary music, the leading role of language centres, and the Noongar adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. RN’s Word Up! continued with episodes based on a specific word or words in an Indigenous language, chosen by guests who discuss the significance of the word to them. Word Up! has now featured more than 120 languages from every state and territory.
Life Matters celebrated Indigenous linguistic diversity and translated children’s books into language for children in remote and regional communities, while Big Ideas broadcast their focus on preserving Indigenous languages, inviting Indigenous language guests on the show to participate in discussions and also offer a greeting in their local language.
In July 2019, ABC Classic broadcast Deborah Cheetham’s opera Eumeralla – A war requiem for peace, sung entirely in the ancient dialects of the Gunditjmara people and performed with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
Stories that resonate
The Australian Dream, Stan Grant’s award-winning documentary of AFL player Adam Goodes, was broadcast on ABC TV and ABC iview in February 2020 to a complete audience of 717,000.1 The documentary explored themes of racism and reconciliation in Australian society and initiated an active conversation on social media, with the program’s social media posts reaching 1.7 million Australians2 and generating close to 10,000 tweets across the broadcast week.3The Australian Dream represented the launch of the ABC’s Walking Together initiative, which saw programming and content across the ABC looking at all aspects of Australia’s journey towards reconciliation.
The Pool aired on ABC TV in September 2019 and explored an Australian ritual that that is a big part of our national identity – the local pool. The two-part series had a complete audience of 735,0004 with supporting content across the ABC’s radio, television, digital and third-party properties, and the international TV channel ABC Australia. Local Radio held outside broadcasts at local pools, and pool parties were hosted by local communities across the country. A partnership with the Royal Lifesaving Association of Australia raised awareness about water safety, with ABC Brisbane presenters and listeners taking part in CPR courses and producing a Facebook video Stay Safe with CPR this Summer.
A new series of interview program One Plus One explored three key themes of modern Australia over three seasons. Barrie Cassidy explored modern leadership, Kurt Fearnley examined the drive for excellence, and Stan Grant looked at identity. The long-form television interview series featured revealing, thought provoking, and intimate half hour conversations with Australians from all walks of life, such as local fire chiefs, athletic champions, surgeons, chefs, public servants and human rights activists.
Specialist radio series 'Section 71', produced for RN’s The History Listen, revisited five key High Court cases that shaped Australia’s political and social landscape in significant ways. Another major RN series, Hot Mess, explored the history, politics and human psychology of dealing with climate change, including an examination of why people find it so hard to agree and take action on climate change.
The ABC’s journalism has never been stronger or broader, thanks to strategic investments in investigative journalism, innovation and digital-first storytelling, as well as a commitment to examine the issues and concerns of all Australians.
Strong engagement with important features such as ‘Rich school, poor school’ – an examination of Australia’s great education divide – and ‘How Life Has Changed for People Your Age’ showed that quality online journalism can draw big audiences. ABC News teams Story Lab and Digital Story Innovations took the overall prize at the prestigious international Information is Beautiful awards in London, named the best in the world at data visualisation and digital storytelling for excellence across their portfolio of stories.
In 2019-20, key presenter changes provided opportunities to take a fresh look at some of the ABC’s flagship programs. While continuing in his role as Friday presenter of RN Breakfast Hamish Macdonald also replaced Tony Jones as host of Q+A. Lisa Millar moved to Melbourne to take the News Breakfast chair vacated by Virginia Trioli, who took over the reins from longstanding ABC Radio Melbourne Mornings presenter Jon Faine. Political journalist David Speers also came on board as the new presenter of Insiders after Barrie Cassidy stepped down in 2019.
ABC News journalists won many major awards during the year. Among them, Anne Connolly’s reporting on aged care, integral in triggering the Royal Commission, saw her named Graham Perkin Journalist of the Year at the Melbourne Press Club Quill Awards and NSW Journalist of the Year at the Kennedy Awards. The aged care investigation was also awarded for Public Interest Journalism at the 2019 Walkley Awards for Excellence in Journalism. Other major editorial award winners included Sashka Koloff (joint winner of the Lowy Institute Media Award), Brett Worthington (International Federation of Agricultural Journalists Digital Media Award) and Louise Milligan (Australian Press Council Press Freedom Medal).
The Remote Communities Initiative enables journalists to spend time in rural and remote communities that are often underrepresented in the media, in order to bring their stories to local and national audiences. Some of the locations that teams reported from in 2019-20 included Ampilatwatja, a remote Indigenous Northern Territory community, Shark Bay 800km north of Perth, Tasmania’s World Heritage southwest wilderness area, and Queensland’s Palm Island.
Your favourite songs
triple j’s Hottest 100 brought in 3,211,596 votes in 2020, beating the previous year's vote tally by a huge 16.4%. Billie Eilish came in at number #1 with her song Bad Guy, becoming the youngest person, and first female solo artist to top the poll. More than 4,800 listeners donated over $250,000 to Hottest 100 charity partner Greening Australia. The Hottest 100 of the Decade 2010s attracted 1,869,659 votes, with the countdown on Saturday 14 March culminating in a win for Tame Impala, for their song The Less I Know the Better.
triple j Unearthed’s ability to find and support young Australian musicians is unsurpassed. Phenomenon Tones and I went from relative obscurity in 2019 to No. 1s and ARIA Award wins via Unearthed and her song Dance Monkey is now the most streamed song by a solo female artist ever on Spotify.
ABC Classic audiences averaged 815,000 listeners per week in 2019,5its highest ever yearly reach figure as a network. 2020 results have increased this to an 833,000 listener average reach.6 More than 60,000 votes were cast across 413 pieces of music in the Classic 100 Beethoven 250th anniversary vote, with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (Ode to Joy) taking out the No. 1 spot. With a 400% increase in online audiences, #Classic100 trended at #3 on Twitter.
Hosted by Rick Howe, Island Music was introduced as a new 2-hour weekly program specialising in Reggae with a Pacific focus, and ran throughout the year on ABC Radio Australia. The program re-booted the Pacific Break competition for unsigned artists, receiving more than 80 entries from across the Pacific, with the winner travelling from PNG to perform at WOMADelaide festival In March 2020.
Unique arts content
The Arts feature documentary Mystify: MichaelHutchence was a highlight of AusMusic Month in November 2019. Directed by Richard Lowenstein, Mystify drew on exclusive archive content and interviews to create an account of the life and career of the INXS frontman. Total audience for the program was 805,0007 and there were more than 2.5 million social media content views in the two months following broadcast.
In June, RN dedicated a weekend to books, celebrating authors, readers and writers. The Big Weekend of Books included conversations with, and discussions about, some of the best writers from Australia and around the world, such as Christos Tsiolkas, Trent Dalton, Tara June Winch, Hilary Mantel and Elizabeth Gilbert. The event was produced in response to the cancellation of major literary festivals due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020 RN also launched a new Book Club for audience members, through a monthly discussion on The Bookshelf program and a new Facebook group, the ABC Book Club, where audience members share their reading experiences with others.
Six-part musical comedy podcast series CrossBread starred Megan Washington (who also wrote all original music for the show) and followed a mock hip-hop duo – siblings Josh and Joan Burns known as CrossBread – who through a talent show become Christian music superstars, despite not being believers. The unique podcast was critically praised and featured on the ‘Shows we love’ section of US Apple Podcasts.
Moving documentary Storm in a Teacup presented an intimate portrait of Western Australian artist Leon Pericles as he embarked on creating a full retrospective exhibition of his life’s work while caring for his life-long creative counsel and manager, wife Moira, through her experience of Alzheimer’s. Sales from an etching created in the film raised more than $90,000, with the money donated to Dementia Australia and the Australian Alzheimer’s Research Foundation.
Kids' education and entertainment
The ABC provides a wealth of educational, entertaining, factual, comedic and musical content for Australia’s 4.4 million children between the ages of 2 and 14. ABC Kids and ABC ME are Australia’s highest rating children’s entertainment networks, reaching up to 42% of children under 15 years.8
In addition to Play School’s traditional series, 2019 saw the introduction of Play School ‘Specials’, including the landmark episode ‘Acknowledgement of Country’. In this episode presenters Luke Carroll, Miranda Tapsell and Hunter Page-Lochard celebrated Australia’s First Peoples and shared knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and language.
Are You Tougher Than Your Ancestors tackled Australian history from a fresh perspective by challenging a group of today's kids to walk in their ancestors’ shoes. Australia’s first scripted podcast for children, Mackaroy Uncovered, is a serialised mystery-adventure performed by kids, and was published in late June 2020 for listeners aged 8 to 12.
Prank You Very Much gave a cast of big-hearted kids the opportunity to stage elaborate pranks of thanks to friends, teachers, and families, and Australian animation took centre stage on ABC ME with two exciting new titles, TheStrange Chores and Spongo, Fuzz and Jalapena.
The DisRupted film season featured three films made from emerging creators living with disability - The Legend of Burnout Barry, ...AndThen Something Changed and Rocky and Me. The films told stories about the ups and downs of living with disability from authentic, funny, and personal perspectives, and marked the debut of several new actors who also live with disability.
This sporting life
In 2019, the ABC became Football Federation Australia’s (FFA) free-to-air broadcast partner, with A-League, W-League, Socceroos and Matildas matches now available on ABC TV. Football is Australia’s most popular organised sport16 and this partnership provides free-to-air coverage of football for all Australians.
Also in 2019, ABC Grandstand collaborated with the BBC to bring live coverage of the Women’s Ashes, the Men’s ICC ODI World Cup and the Men’s Ashes to audiences on ABC listen. Each match of the Australian Women’s Cricket Team’s journey to winning the ICC T20 World Cup at the MCG in March 2020 was also broadcast live on ABC listen and ABC Grandstand Digital Radio, with select matches on ABC Radio.
In February 2020 ABC TV broadcast live from the two leading Australian women's golf tournaments, the Australian Women’s Open and the VIC Open. The Grandstand team continued to broadcast the sports which matter to Australians in Australia throughout the year, including the WBBL, women’s and men’s international cricket, AFL, AFLW, NRL and NRLW.
Australian TV drama and comedy
Known for its compelling original dramas, the ABC once again brought an impressive suite of scripted entertainment to Australian screens and devices in 2019-20.
Total Control received critical acclaim for its writing, direction and outstanding performances from its lead cast, particularly for Deborah Mailman and her portrayal of a strong, compassionate politician and woman triumphing over contemporary struggles.
Stateless, a high-end narrative drama series based on a concept brought to the ABC by Cate Blanchett, explored the lives of a group of people each affected by immigration detention policy. Stateless and Mystery Road were two of only eight series worldwide invited to launch at the Berlin International Film Festival 2020. Mystery Road Series 2 premiered on Sunday 19 April and became the No. 1 Australian drama on free-to-air to the end of the reporting period, based on national first-run broadcast audiences.9
Eight-part Australian historical fiction series Operation Buffalo was inspired by the events around the British-led nuclear bomb testing in the late 1950s and early 60s. Script development involved consultation with the Traditional Owners, the Maralinga Tjarutja community, and the first episode was programmed to coincide with the Indigenous documentary Maralinga Tjarutja, which was written and directed by Speaking Out presenter Larissa Behrendt.
The format for Diary of an Uber Driver was sold to German company Bon Voyage Films for streaming platform Joyn, and was aired in Germany in May 2020 to favourable ratings and reviews. Four-part Australian/Scottish co-production The Cry achieved No. 2 status on ABC iview for 2019 with more than 2.8 million plays.10 And Harrow Series 2, filmed in Brisbane, achieved a complete audience of 1.4 million.11
In comedy, it was announced in May 2020 that six-part comedy Frayed had been picked up in the United States as an HBO Max exclusive. Popular satire series Utopia entered its fourth season and was the No. 1 scripted comedy title on ABC TV with a total audience of 1.48 million. Utopia was also the No. 1 series on ABC TV among younger viewers with an average audience of 626,000 for people aged 54 and under. 12
Access and resources
The ABC refurbished studios in Sydney and Melbourne over the reporting period, with more planned for Brisbane and Perth. Ongoing investments will secure the automated, remote controlled environments that bring ABC’s distinctive, high-quality content and services to life. During COVID-19, the use of video conferencing increased across ABC’s studios, enabling live interviews without the need for guests to be in the building.
Clients who have sought specialist support from ABC Studios and Media Productions over the last year included networks Nine and Seven, Telstra, NEP Group, Gravity Media, Blackfella Films, and GFO Attractions. The ABC’s auditoriums have also facilitated rehearsals and performances for a number of Australian orchestras including the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Australian String Quartet, Western Australian Philharmonic, the Sydney and Queensland Symphony Orchestras and the SA Police Band.